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21 Nov

What should we do about Mr. Pareto and his principle?

Datum: 2012-11-21 11:00

Not all tasks we per­form in our work are of equal impor­tance. Some are the type of things we just need to get done and oth­er tasks are of the kind that makes the busi­ness take quan­tum-leaps for­ward in the right direction. 

Those of us with a lot on our plates and who eas­i­ly fill our days to the brim (well, come to think of it, who doesn’t) want to spend as much time as pos­si­ble doing what has the great­est effect on our business. 

It would be easy for me to just give you tru­isms such as Just do the right things!”, but that is not how I work. 

But how?”

Being a struk­tör is about being sys­tem­at­ic and con­crete. I there­fore ask how?” quite a num­ber of times in a day; per­haps some­times even more than my clients are com­fort­able with. 

So, the first time I heard of Vil­fre­do Pareto’s prin­ci­ple (pop­u­lar­ly referred to as the 80/20-rule) and that it could be applied to per­son­al effi­cien­cy, I nat­u­ral­ly asked myself but how?”.

A few years of work­ing with struc­ture lat­er, I have at least one answer to this ques­tion. But first a lit­tle more on Pareto’s principle. 

Few con­tribute to most of the effects

The Ital­ian econ­o­mist Vil­fre­do Pare­to who was active in the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry found that 80% of all the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the pop­u­la­tion. He grad­u­al­ly dis­cov­ered sim­i­lar pro­por­tions of dis­tri­b­u­tion in oth­er areas and coined the prin­ci­ple which states that for many events, 20% of the caus­es pro­duce 80% of the effects. 

Since it became known, Pareto’s prin­ci­ple has been applied to numer­ous areas (such as by Joseph Juran in his work on qual­i­ty and qual­i­ty man­age­ment), and is today used with­in many dif­fer­ent areas such as eco­nom­ics, orga­ni­za­tion­al the­o­ry and soci­ol­o­gy to men­tion a few. Some­times it is an 80/20-rela­tion, some­times 7030, 8030 or even 9510. The con­sis­tent fact is that few caus­es con­tribute to most of the results. 

Make a small effort, get big results

When Pareto’s prin­ci­ple is applied to per­son­al effi­cien­cy, it trans­lates into that a small share of the activ­i­ties we do caus­es a large share of the results.
So if we would do less of the things that do not sig­nif­i­cant­ly con­tribute to our progress, we would have more space and time to do more of the things that real­ly mat­ters and make us progress. So, in oth­er words, we would get more and bet­ter results with­out real­ly work­ing more. 

The val­ue of apply­ing this prin­ci­ple is hence that we have to work less to get the same effect from our efforts. Or, if you want to, work as much as before but now with bet­ter results. 

Do this

OK, so if I now want to work less with­out expe­ri­enc­ing a decrease in results, how do I make this hap­pen? Well, here is one way. 

  1. Dur­ing the week to come, start­ing today, write down every­thing you do. (I know, it sounds incred­i­bly incon­ve­nient. You have enough to do already, and now that struk­tör tells you that you have to write down what you do as you do it! But, my friend, if we aren’t to just make a rough esti­mate and if you are going to actu­al­ly take advan­tage of this tip, we need to do this prop­er­ly. We need data to work with.) 
    • You can for instance cre­ate a new Excel-sheet or doc­u­ment in Word or Notepad. If you make it dig­i­tal right away, it will be eas­i­er to work with lat­er. You can down­load a sim­ple Excel-tem­plate here: http://​stiern​holm​.com/​p​areto.
    • Anoth­er option is to get an emp­ty sheet of paper and sim­ply start writ­ing down every­thing you do. If you go any­where, sim­ply fold it up and put it in your pock­et so that you can have it avail­able as you begin a new activity. 
    • Or, pur­chase a small note­book where you make note of all your activities.

  2. Once you have made it clear what you do in a week, remind your­self of your main pri­or­i­ties or goals in the next year. 

  3. In the list you have cre­at­ed of all your activ­i­ties, add a col­umn to the right of the list with the head­ing Impact”. For each activ­i­ty you have done, now make note of how much it actu­al­ly con­tributes to the attain­ment of your goals on a scale from one to ten in the Impact-col­umn. Some tasks will be rat­ed 0 and oth­ers 10

  4. When you are done, make a sum­ma­ry of the impact. 

  5. Sort the list by impact, that is, put the tasks that influ­ence your progress most at the top, and those which con­tribute least at the bottom. 

  6. To the right of the Impact-col­umn, cre­ate anoth­er col­umn that shows you how many per­cent out of the total impact you tasks have on your busi­ness, each task con­tribute with. 

  7. To the right of this col­umn, make anoth­er one in which the per­cent­ages are accu­mu­lat­ed so that it becomes easy to see how much the first 20% of the tasks con­tribute to impact­ing the busi­ness. Notice what the ratio is this week: Is it 8020, 6040 or some oth­er ratio? 

  8. Now let us draw some con­clu­sions and take action of the data we have col­lect­ed. Go through the 80% of the tasks that impact your attain­ment of this year’s goals the least. 

    • Which of these can you sim­ply drop from now on?
    • Which tasks can you del­e­gate to some­one else?
    • Which tasks can you sim­pli­fy so that each task from now on takes less time to do? 
    • What tasks do you want to con­tin­ue doing since they in some way con­tribute to accom­plish­ing a goal you did not include in this exercise? 
    • Which of the 20% of tasks that have the great­est impact on your busi­ness do you want to spend more time doing? 

  9. If you decide to do some­thing spe­cif­ic, cre­ate a con­crete to-do-task which implies you tak­ing the first step towards dis­man­tling, del­e­gat­ing, sim­pli­fy­ing or expand­ing an activity. 

Make it eas­i­er to do the right things 

If you make it clear to your­self what tasks that con­tribute the most to the attain­ment of your goals, it will be eas­i­er to deter­mine if you spend time doing the right things. You will need to work less and still get the most impor­tant things done. 

How do you do it?

Have you ever applied Pareto’s prin­ci­ple in some way? How? Where? Tell me! Write a com­ment to let me and oth­er read­ers know.